In the 56th minute, first-year Alessia Russo finally connected with her second shot of the game. She received a pass in the middle of the field and weaved through the defense until a window opened between two defenders. She launched with her right foot from 24 yards out with the goalie out of position and found the back right corner of the net. It would be the only goal scored, but it was enough.
Who stood out?
For her score, Russo stood out as a key player on Friday. The recently named First Team All-ACC player took four shots in 71 minutes, and scored her ninth goal of the season which became the highlight of the game.
It wasn’t a flawless effort, but the North Carolina defense also stood out as well. The starting backline of Taylor Otto, Julia Ashley, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Megan Buckingham allowed just two shots on goal for the team’s 10th clean sheet of the season.
In particular, the defense’s ability to stop forwards, even when they slipped up, made a difference. Buckingham tracked down a Wolfpack forward headed down the wide-open field in the second half to clear the ball away without letting the team have a chance to tie it up. It was moments like that which ended up being the difference in a low scoring game.
When was it decided?
The game was decided midway through the second half, when Russo’s scoring highlight changed the game. The goal put the pressure on N.C. State to have a goal of their own and it turned out to be enough for the Tar Heels to win.
Why does it matter?
At this point in the season, any win is valuable. The ability to win a tight game can be the difference after the ACC Championship, when the team’s season will only last as long as they can continue to win.
The Tar Heels will have a chance to roll into the NCAA Tournament with a big win over rival Duke or with their first loss since Sept. 7. The team already beat the Blue Devils 2-1 in overtime in the first game of the season.
If it prevents Duke from winning its first ACC Championship title on Sunday, it'll have a chance to carry into the most important part of the season with plenty of confidence. Although another ACC Tournament Championship means little for NCAAs, this could be a huge moment for the team’s season when they either catch fire, or not.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will play in the ACC Championship on Sunday against No. 2 Duke in Charleston. After that, they’ll receive a seed for the NCAA Tournament which begins on November 11.